Later today George Osborne will set out his Comprehensive Spending Review. In it he will set out almost £52billion of cuts to spending over course of this Parliament.
Some of these cuts will be necessary in order to get rid of our deficit. No matter what Labour try to claim, you can't get abolish the structural deficit without making savings.
But the simple fact is that nearly half of the cuts George Osborne will make aren't necessary to get spending under control. Instead that are motivated by an ideological drive to shrink the state. That's a big departure from the decisions Liberal Democrats took in Coalition.
In my speech last week I set out what a Liberal Democrat approach would look like instead. While we will not oppose every measure in George Osborne's spending review, we will judge each decision on whether it is needed to abolish the deficit, whether it will help young people build a better life than their parents and whether it will help small businesses and entrepreneurs.
What that means in practice is that we want to see five things delivered in today's review:
- £250million of additional spending on mental health - to help ensure parity between mental and physical health, and support young people, who disproportionately suffer from mental health problems.
- Stopping the Tax Credit cuts - which will hit millions of hard working low income families. While Labour has said they would accept some transitional protection, to help those worst affected, we don't believe this is not enough- we want to see the changes stopped entirely.
- Investment in enterprise - we want to see guaranteed funding for innovative 'Catapult Centres', that help businesses develop their products, for at least five years.
- A real commitment to investment in new infrastructure - with money allocated for new housing, ensuing everyone has access to high quality broadband and support renewable energy technology to help boost the renewables industry and combat climate change.
- Proper analysis of the impact - The books shouldn't be balanced on the backs of the poor. In the first budget without the Liberal Democrats the Tories refused to set out who was made worse off by the choices they made. This time we need a real analysis.
Yet despite what we might want to see, I suspect instead the Chancellor will make further deep cuts in sectors vital to supporting young people and our communities for the future.
In particular I am deeply concerned by expected cuts to Further Education, which could see up to £6billion taken from the budget. At a time when our economy is crying out for high skilled, well educated workers, it has never been more important that our FE sector is there to help train our young people.
What's more, with a globalised world and a rapidly changing economy, people in the future will not be able to get away with just one degree or one qualification. They will have to return to the well of further education at various points in their careers. That means we need to protect learning throughout people's lives as well.
The FE budget is about more than funding to individual colleges. It's about what kind of society we want to build. It is about planning for the future. If we do see cuts in the level expected today, then the choice by George Osborne will be clear. He will have chosen to run the economy like a closing down sale, unconcerned with what happens to future generations. Liberal Democrats will instead focus on the future, and we will oppose excessive cuts every step of the way.
Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale